We’ve all heard of stalkers, right? Let’s be honest, they’ve probably been around since the dawn of time in some shape or form. The first thing that probably springs to mind to associate with a stalker is creepy.
We use the word a little too freely and it loses some of its value, but when it really is stalking it can be all encompassing. So, with the dawn of the internet things got a whole lot easier for stalkers. Here’s what you need to know about cyberstalking and how you can take steps to protect yourself.
Is it cyberstalking or cyber stalking?
Simply speaking, the definition of cyberstalking (or cyber stalking? it honestly doesn’t matter) is “the use of the internet, or other electronic means, to harass and intimidate a selected victim”.
It can be using the internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass someone. Cyberstalking is often just one aspect of a much wider picture. In fact, it is common for it to be accompanied by offline stalking too. It is part of a broader picture of cyber crimes.
What are the motives for cyberstalking?
There are a whole array of motives for cyberstalking, ranging from mildly unsettling to incredibly serious. It may be to control or intimidate someone or to gather information about them to use in other crimes, such as financial gain. An example of this could be identity theft, which is on the rise at the moment.
The way the internet has evolved has made people become easy targets for cyberstalking. We all share information way more freely these days, not realising that making everything public just fuels the online stalker population.
We also often don’t understand that our data isn’t as secure as we might think. We put our faith in big-tech to keep it all safe from prying eyes, but in truth, there are data breaches every day.
Also, most people will sign up to services without reading the privacy policies. Therefore, what they think is private, could in fact be very much public. This is a cyberstalker’s dream landscape.
What does cyberstalking look like in practise?
To give an example of what we are up against, you might post something on Facebook and get a few nasty comments from someone you don’t know. The messages might tell you that they hate you, or they are coming after you. At this point, this is not cyberstalking. But when this becomes more frequent and on multiple posts this is when that definition suddenly starts to ring true.
You can report an unsettling post like this to Facebook but even if they do act, often the attacker will have more than one account posting the same things. When it all really gets out of hand, they may say they know where you live and what they want to do to you. It is important to report this to your local police department before it goes this far.
Studies show that although the majority of internet attacks are aimed at men, cyberstalking, in particular, is mostly aimed at women. In these cases it often involves sexual harassment and physical stalking.
Cyberstalking and social media sites
Typically cyberstalkers know their victims in some shape or form. It could be a work colleague, an ex-partner or an old friend. They might want revenge for something or they could be some form of unhealthy infatuation. However, it is certainly possible they are also someone unfamiliar. Either way it can become something all encompassing.
Many of us have received some unwanted attention in work from another colleague. Whether it is a flirtatious email, or a friend request on social media, even though we barely know them. Some would consider this initially forgivable and think nothing of it. But if you take steps to push them away, such as blocking them, or ignoring that email, this can lead to something more sinister.
The levels of harassment vary but the fear of what somebody is capable of is enough to put you in emotional turmoil. We definitely advice you do not accept friend requests from anyone you are suspicious of.
The other form of cyberstalking we often see in the news is celebrity stalking. This usually involves somebody they don’t know. In many of the cases the attacker has mental health issues.
Back in 2018, Ryan Perez was arrested outside American model Bella Hadid’s new york home. He had been reportedly stalking her from December 2017 to February 2018. Hadid claimed the man had left frightening messages “to her through social media.”
What is catfishing?
Well, for one, it is a popular and slightly surreal MTV program popular in the US and the UK. What the show is about, while clearly dramatised, is actually quite common.
Catfishing is a type of cyberstalking where the attacker creates a fake online identity on social media or a dating site to target a particular person. They might want to entice the victim into sharing intimate photos and videos. These can then be used as blackmail.
They also might develop what seems like a legitimate relationship and then suddenly request money for an emergency. It all sounds quite suspect but you would be surprised at how many people fall for this.
Catfishing relies on the vulnerability of the person being subjected to it. If they catch someone in a difficult time in their life they are much more susceptible to this method.
How to spot catfishers
Although Catfishers can be very convincing there are ways to spot them. If all their online photos are selfies or studio shots, with no other friends, no family, and no context, that’s usually a good sign that there is something dodgy going on.
Also, if they aren’t who they say they are, asking to have a video call will be a dead give away. If they decline and disappear you can be pretty sure that you were dealing with a catfisher.
How to halt online abuse
Although there is no silver bullet on this one. There are definitely attitudes and actions you can take to either stop altogether or lessen the chances of being stalked online.
We are certainly not here to scare you and the chances are you will never be the victim of cyberstalking but a good way to see how easy it is, is to search for your name in Google. If you aren’t very internet privacy savvy you may be shocked at what you find. From images, to social media profiles, there is a lot cyberstalkers can get from internet search engines, you might have even shared your telephone number or even home address on Facebook, thinking it wasn’t public.
Here are some simple safety tips we advise you to take forward to keep yourself stalker-free:
- Stop sharing private information
We know this sounds like an obvious one but you would be amazed at the kind of information people share on their social media accounts.
If you take nothing else away, keeping a low profile is the fundamental way to stop cyberstalking getting out of hand. Do not share your phone number, your home address and even think before posting images of the area or house you live in. Without knowing it, you may be giving away a little too much and this will allow the attacker to pinpoint where you frequently go and when.
On top of this, don’t accept any friend requests from accounts you don’t know or don’t want to be associated with. Once they make that online connection with you on a social network, they now have access to a lot more sensitive personal information.
One that is a little more difficult to exercise but could help a great deal is to not use your real or full name online. We realise this is less feasible but even if you can’t do this across the board, when you are using an online forum, you could use a nickname or something a little less formal. This will at least give you some sort of protection.
Remember it isn’t just social media sites that are the problem. Many people share personal details about themselves elsewhere. Whether it is an online survey or a questionnaire, the second it is stored somewhere it increases the chances of it falling into the wrong hands.
- Keep your software updated
This advice is something we suggest for pretty much any circumstance. If you don’t have auto-updates set on your phone and computer, turn it on now!
Software updates are vital in preventing personal data from being breached. Most updates are there to fix security vulnerabilities and help ensure your information stays safe.
Don’t forget if you have location services set to being on by default, if a cyberstalker has access to your phone, through spyware or malware, they can track your every move.
In fact, in quite a few cases cyberstalkers have been found to have paid a hacker to gain access to the stalking victims mobile device in order to gather information on them. This is usually done through a phishing email. If you click a link or download an attachment, malicious software is downloaded onto the device automatically.
- Get a VPN
You might not know this, but your IP address reveals a lot. It is in fact linked to your internet bill, which is sent to your home address. It is also linked to your credit or debit card. Some cyberstalkers are able to trace this revealing where you live.
That is why we suggest you start using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Once you are connected to a VPN it will mask your IP address and fool hackers into thinking you are connecting in a completely different location, whether it is in the same country or somewhere abroad.
Not only this but it also encrypts your internet traffic. This means that it is far harder for hackers and cyberstalkers to track your online presence.
- Get your privacy setting in check
We touched upon this a little earlier. As boring as it might sound, making sure your privacy settings are strong could save you a whole lot of abuse…and online harassment! Most services today have somewhere you can adjust how much of your information is shared.
On social networks, you can usually turn direct or instant messages off or only for people that follow you. This is an avenue cyberstalkers will often use to send messages to their victims. Also, they will often comment on or reply to public posts, therefore it is always a good idea to check what is set to public and take that off. You can usually make it so only friends and followers can see your posts too.
All of this is commonly known as “digital hygiene”. If you look this up, you will find countless articles on ways to increase your privacy.
Protecting your personal information
The fact of the matter is, cyberstalking should be taken seriously. It is a crime and it can ruin lives. No one wants to become a victim of it.
The bottom line is you need to keep your personal information private, whether it is online or off. Technology opens up our lives to the outside world and we need to all be conscious of that. With that comes the threat of online harassment, substantial emotional distress, inappropriate contact and a lesser personal safety.
The main thing we can all do is be cyber-smart and keep our information safe. But it never hurts to scan your phone or run software on your computer to make sure you don’t have spyware or malware installed on it. These programs and apps help facilitate what cyberstalkers do. Therefore, making sure your device is virus free is a must.
As we mentioned before, Cyberstalking should not be taken lightly. There are anti stalking laws that protect people and are there to stamp this form of cyber crime out. Whether it takes place on chat rooms, social networking sites or other websites, it doesn’t matter. You should report cyberstalking!
If you are or you know any cyberstalking victims, you will know just how difficult it can be. It can take over your online life. Not only this, it can quickly escalate into offline stalking too.
Remember to keep all the messages, whether they are comments or instant messages. These can be used as evidence. There are strong criminal penalties that accompany cyberstalking law.
The credible threat on your cell phone
If you start to receive phone calls from numbers you don’t know this is probably the attacker. This should also be included in anything you report. Take screenshots and make sure all your family members are aware of the cyberstalker and their computer communications too.
If you suspect that someone is using spyware software to track your everyday activities, and you believe you may be in danger, only use public computers or telephones to get help. This same person may know you are aware of them and this can lead to more aggressive behaviour.
We are here to help
If you think your personal information has been compromised or you have spyware on your device you can download our free app today and find out how we can help keep your devices safe from spyware and much much more. We are on Android and iPhone. It is time to be cyber safe!